Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

 Jim Conigliaro Jr., founder of the Independent Driver’s Guild, echoed that statement. 

“Workers can’t count on the court system to support them. Drivers have to organize to force common sense legislation for fair wages, benefits and representation regardless of classification,” Conigliaro told Bloomberg Law.

Groups nationwide have already been developing to combat these exclusions. In early May, rideshare drivers went on strike nationwide. A driver for both Uber and Lyft, Kathrine Federova, has been on strike three times now as a member of the Chicago Rideshare Advocates. As explained by In These Times, Chicago Rideshare Advocates, a worker-run group organized primary through social media, has organized a handful of labor actions in recent years, and first began planning the May 8 strike in coordination with a similar group in Los Angeles.”

Rideshare drivers already grapple with declining fees, unpredictable surge prices and deactivations, and this decision only makes it harder for them to advocate for better working conditions. However, despite the unfortunate news from the NLRB that struck rideshare employees on May 14, it’s clear that these groups intend to continue to unite forces to act against the unjust situations they confront. 

When speaking about the strikes that have been occurring, Desai said, “We’re sending a message that drivers need to come first.” It’s imperative that the NLRB hears that message.

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Posted In: Union Matters, Union Matters

Union Matters

Members of Local 7798 achieve major goal with workplace violence policy

From the USW

Workers at Copper Country Mental Health Services in Houghton, Mich., obtained wage increases and pension improvements in their contract ratified earlier this year, but the benefit Local 7798 members were most proud of bargaining was language regarding workplace violence.

The contract committed the employer to appoint a committee, including two members of the local, to draft a workplace violence policy. Work quickly began on the policy, and just last week, the committee drafted and released its first clinical guideline focusing on responding to consumer aggression toward staff.

“We are so excited to have this go into effect,” said Unit Chair Rachelle Rodriguez of Local 7798. “This was a direct result of our last negotiating session.”

The guideline includes the definition of aggression and an outline of procedures, all of which will be reviewed yearly. And though this is just a first step in reducing the incident rates and harm of workplace violence in their workplace, it still is a big one for the local, and it wouldn’t have been possible without a collective bargaining agreement.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work